The COVID pandemic has prevented tourists riding along the Llangollen Railway
Volunteers have pleaded for financial help to save a heritage railway line that has become a north Wales tourist destination. The Llangollen Railway heritage line is threatened with permanent closure. It took hundreds of rail enthusiasts more than 40 years to reopen 10 miles of track between Llangollen and Corwen in Denbighshire but the business arm of the railway has been placed in the hands of receivers because of mounting debts. Llangollen Railway PLC said it could not "legally continue to trade", with the company insolvent to the extent of about £350,000.
It is a major blow not only to volunteers who run the line, but the businesses in and around Llangollen which benefit from the tourists it attracts. With an annual turnover of between £1.5m and £2m, the line is estimated to be worth around £8m a year to the economy in north-east Wales.
"The plc has been losing money for the last three years and, when the former board resigned in October, and new directors came on board, we realised the situation regarding liabilities was such that it probably wasn't sustainable," said Peter Edwards, the new chairman of the Llangollen Railway Trust. As we've investigated further, it has come to be quite clear that insolvency was the only approach to save the railway."
The line has attracted visitors to Llangollen
The losses are related to the railway's engineering works which, as well as maintaining engines and rolling stock for the Llangollen line, also did work for other heritage railways.
However the Covid pandemic has only added to the problems.
"It really hasn't helped because it's taken away any opportunity to earn any revenue during 2020 at all," he said.
The 15 full-time staff have been on furlough but have now been told their jobs are at risk.
"The plc has been losing money for the last three years and, when the former board resigned in October, and new directors came on board, we realised the situation regarding liabilities was such that it probably wasn't sustainable," said Peter Edwards, the new chairman of the Llangollen Railway Trust.As we've investigated further, it has come to be quite clear that insolvency was the only approach to save the railway."
The line employs 15 full-time staff
But there is still hope that Llangollen Railway can get back on track. While the company is being wound up, it is a separate trust which leases the track and buildings from Denbighshire county council and holds the necessary licences to operate the railway.
"As long as we can deal with those regulatory requirements and rescue key assets - the things we need to actually run the railway and do the maintenance - from the administration or liquidation situation with the plc, there's a very good chance that we can start running trains again," Mr Edwards added.
Like other tourism businesses, the Llangollen line has had government grants to help it financially during the Covid crisis.
Mr Peter Edwards - ever hopeful!
But Mr Edwards hopes to make a case for more help from public finances to reopen, otherwise the line could close permanently as any new organisation would face a bill of around £250,000 to cover the cost of obtaining the licences needed to operate.
North Wales Tourism said the railway was "an important tourist attraction", not only for the town, but the region, throughout the year.
Aled Rees, who works as a volunteer signalman, added: "You could see that everybody was totally heartbroken by what had happened. They've laid the tracks, overhauled the engines, painted all the buildings, tended to the line side - it's a full-time job for some."
But, he added, he and the rest of volunteers have faith that the new board will be able to turn things round.